Issue > Poetry
Alice Friman

Alice Friman

Alice Friman's latest collection is Vinculum (LSU), for which she won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Poetry. New work appears in The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, New Letters and the 2012 Pushcart Prize Anthology. She is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA.

The Real Thing

You can always tell the Greek
from the Roman copy, the same
way the lover knows the lover
in a crowded room and how
not to get in the way
or fill the space between
with finger food or chat. To just
let it come—head on and straight—
the real thing.
                      I was nineteen,
New York, and he wasn't even
Greek but second-generation
Polish with a wife on vacation.
(How tacky can you get?)
But if he wasn't the real thing,
he was as close as I ever got—
love's seal and stamp, my first
journal entry, my preview
of coming attractions, my
press your head to the X
on the wall—desire.
I still see him walking away
down Eighth Street in the day's
last lingering light. Golden he was.
Even the sun was stuck on him.

All these years, persistent
as a jailhouse dream, he's been
with me—my favorite CD played
on long car trips, or in the tube
of an MRI when the only itch
you're allowed to scratch
is a bite of memory. And when
I finally decided to push delete,
for after all, enough is enough,
I couldn't. So burned in he was—
his left wrist bone, his arm's sun-
kissed treasury of fine gold hairs.

The River

I stood in my grandmother's kitchen
watching my mother roll her mother's hair.

She wanted a permanent.
The hair a white mist, nothing more.

The rollers, pink. Her scalp
pink too, but different. I was

twelve. I thought no one could be
so old and trembly. And pink.

I thought a lot when I was twelve—
I thought nobody thought the way

I thought, to be so old and still want.
What could be left for her to want?

Her face a crosshatch of lines.
The head, the hands. The terrible shaking.

Little ghost, if you could speak, you
whose eyes look at me now—tell me

my charge. You are sixty-two years gone,
surely nothing but splinters left.

What do you order me to write
other than what I know? That nothing

is as cruel or sweeter than the shortness
of our days. That flesh clings,

refusing to be destroyed even as it is.
That, yes, there were three of us,

and after, to celebrate your curls,
we had tea in the yellow cups,

and the best Russian coffee cake
in the world—your favorite—

with eddies of walnuts and cinnamon
roiling through, dark. Like a river.


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